JERUSALEM — Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday warned the six-power group negotiating with Iran to set stringent limits on its nuclear enrichment at forthcoming talks.
“If the P5+1 will set a much lower threshold, like just stop reaching 20 percent it means that basically the Iranians at a very cheap cost bought their way into continuing their military programmes, slightly slower but without sanctions,” Barak said in English in an interview aired on Sunday by CNN.
“That would be a total change of direction for the worse,” he added.
The so-called P5+1, comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, is scheduled to begin talks with Iran in coming weeks, though no date has been set and Tehran has rejected at least one proposed venue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month set three “benchmarks” for a peaceful settlement of the Iran nuclear issue: That the Islamic republic dismantle its underground nuclear facility in Qom, stop uranium enrichment and get rid of all enriched material in Iran beyond what would allow it to make medical isotopes or generate nuclear power.
“And when I say all the material, I mean all the material, from 3.5 percent up,” Netanyahu said, during a March 2 visit to Ottawa on his way to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington.
The New York Times reported late Saturday that the United States and its European allies plan to demand the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of the Qom plant, a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country.
“Mr. Obama and his allies are gambling that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and more financial hardship,” the Times wrote.
The Obama administration says it does not believe Iran has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give sanctions time to work.
But Israel, which sees a possible Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to its very existence, claims Iran may be on the cusp of “breakout” capability — when it could quickly build a nuclear weapon — and it does not rule out staging a pre-emptive strike of its own.
Iran last held talks with the six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — in January 2011 with no results.
Obama has told Iran the United States would accept Tehran having a civilian nuclear programme if the Islamic state can prove it is not seeking atomic weapons, the Washington Post said Friday.
Obama sent such a message to Tehran via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who delivered it to Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei last week, said the newspaper’s foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius.